LONDON, Sporting Alert – Arsenal head into Tuesday’s Champions League round of 16 battle with Barcelona at Emirates Stadium knowing that they must stay together if they are to avoid a big deficit going into the second leg.
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“We absolutely need to have, as a squad, total focus to have a chance,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Barcelona, the defending European champions, are the heavy favourites knock-off the English Premier League side over the two-leg tie, and Wenger has warned his players about the danger of attacking trio Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.
The Frenchman said at his press conference that the trio are the “most efficient” strike force in the world, as they have combined to score 91 goals between this campaign.
“They are the most efficient,” Wenger said. “They are top, top class. Individually they have exceptional talent.
“The only way we can stop them is by being collectively resilient, having great solidarity and intelligence as well. Let’s not forget we have a good defensive record and a great goalkeeper as well.”
Wenger continued: “When you see the other day that Messi scored his 300th [La Liga] goal in less than 340 games, I’ve seen many strikers in my life, but I’ve never seen a record like that.
“I remember we played the Champions League final against Barcelona in 2006. He [Messi] was injured at the time and couldn’t play the final.
“That’s where he started already to have a reputation. That’s 10 years later, so it’s remarkable what he has achieved between 2006 and now.”
After resting a number of key players for the FA Cup tie with Hull City, Arsenal will recall midfielder playmakers Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey and goalkeeper Petr Cech for the matchup with the holders.
Barcelona, in the meantime, will recall defender Gerard Pique, who was rested against Las Palmas and defensive midfielder Sergio Busquets, who was suspended.
The Spanish leaders are “super favourites” to win the contest, according to Wenger and Barcelona boss Luis Enrique, who lifted the Champions League crown in his first season in charge last term, admits that he’s “delighted” to be a member of this group.
“I’m delighted to be part of this team, which never tires of winning,” he said. “It is very easy to coach these players. Everyone is aware of what the objectives are.”
Arsenal squad: Cech, Ospina, Monreal, Gibbs, Koscielny, Gabriel, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Chambers, Ramsey, Elneny, Coquelin, Flamini, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Reine-Adelaide, Iwobi, Sanchez, Campbell, Walcott, Welbeck, Giroud.